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Contentious Minnesota gun law would allow permitless carry

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Minnesota Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, introduced two bills that would significantly change the state's laws regarding self-defense and permits to carry guns. Maureen McMullen / Forum News Service2 / 3
Burnsville resident Susan Estill was among volunteers with Everytown and Moms Demand Action to rally against two gun-related House bills Wednesday, March 7, 2017. Maureen McMullen / Forum News Service3 / 3

ST. PAUL — Minnesotans could bypass the permit process to carry a gun if a House bill became law.

Another bill would eliminate the legal requirements to retreat before implementing deadly force for self-defense outside the home.

House Public Safety Chairman Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, will consider both bills while drafting his overall public safety legislation.

Testifiers addressed a House public safety committee on both bills in a packed meeting room Wednesday, March 8.

Among them was Rob Doar, political director of Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, who spoke in favor of the bill to allow handguns to be carried without a permit, also known as the constitutional carry bill.

Doar said that although eliminating the need for permits would affect his profits as a permit to carry instructor, the change in law would move Minnesota "towards the norm" of other states that have passed similar bills.

"As an instructor, I firmly believe every person should have as much training as they can afford," he said. "But training and government fees should not be a prerequisite to self-defense or the constitutional right."

Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, said he introduced the bill to allow Minnesotans to carry handguns without a permit because it is a U.S. constitutional right.

His comment came in response to a question by Rep. Raymond Dehn, D-Minneapolis: "What problem is this bill trying to solve?"

State county attorney and law enforcement groups testified that they oppose the Nash permit bill, saying they favor requiring permits.

Opponents of the bill also discussed the losses they experienced at the hands of permitless gun owners.

The Rev. Rolf Olson, a gun owner and hunter, held up a photo of his daughter, Catherine Ann, who was shot and killed at 24 while answering a Craigslist posting.

Her killer said he had shot her to know what it feels like to kill someone.

"I'm against this bill because we are a culture of standards," Olson said. "We have standards for people to graduate, to get a job drive a car. We have standards to get elected to serve in the Legislature. This bill would eliminate almost all standards to carry a deadly weapon in our state."

Nash said his second bill would make the state's self-defense laws easier to understand in self-defense situations and allow people to use force sooner.

"Law-abiding citizens in a public place should not be forced to retreat before defending themselves," he said.

Joseph Olson, president of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, said the modifications to the law would allow Minnesotans to use proper force without fear of prosecution.

"They assist the individual who is faced with a life-threatening situation to act appropriately to defend themselves without having to have a law degree, without having to have a lawyer," he said.

The bill states that those using force must reasonably presume there is imminent danger of bodily harm to them or another person.

Opponents say this language could be used to target marginalized communities.

Imam Asad Zaman, who directs the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, said the bill could launch an "open season" on immigrants and people of color, whom he said some people could see as threatening.

"Is it racist in its intent? Probably not," Zaman said. "Is it racist in impact? Yes, definitely."

Wednesday's meeting quickly reached room capacity, and audience members were sent to an overflow room.

But about 200 activists with gun safety groups Everytown and Moms Demand Action took to the Capitol the previous Tuesday to rally against the bills.

Susan Estill, a Burnsville resident who attended the rally, said she is concerned by how self-defense bill could be interpreted.

"My immediate concern is that we don't require the retreat portion," she said. "If we lose that, anyone with a gun can shoot anyone they think is threatening for whatever reason. They're not required to see if they're armed. It just takes away safeguards that are going to prevent needless loss of life."

Both of Nash's bills have companion bills in the state Senate.

Gov. Mark Dayton's office said the governor does not support either bill. His signature is needed for the bills to become law.

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